Joaquin Caparros: Our Team is a Real Family
Joaquin Caparros on the performance of Armenian national team, expectations from upcoming friendlies, leaders in the dressing room and his attitude to Yerevan. FFA official site spoke to Armenian national team head coach.
-Mr. Caparros, you have an impressive experience as a coach with a record of countless victories. Still, were you expecting such a successful start as coach of Armenian national team taking first place in our group at the Nations League and 3 consecutive victories in the qualifiers?
-The first message to our football players was about being a real team. I can state, we did it. It was the key factor towards achieving many things. We didn’t need to set long-term goals, all we needed to do was to take one step at a time focusing on each upcoming match. We also needed to form a strong mentality of a team. In this process, we get to know each player and their ideas. I think we are accomplishing our goals although we still have a long way to go. We need to be a national team, but as one, we need to act as a collective of real team players.
-Nonetheless, what accounted for the five consecutive victories and no losses in 8 consecutive games?
-Thanks to this mentality and the attitude of the players we succeed in being like a real family. I was telling our coaches that we have an advantage over other teams around the world; that being the sense of patriotism. Not all teams have that. It should have accounted for one of our advantages. On top of that, the mentality of a team was adding faith in the work done, it was strengthening that faith and confidence.
-What can you tell us about the partnership between the Football Federation of Armenia and the national team?
-The partnership between the coaching staff, the President of the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) and the administrative staff is very transparent, flexible and is of vital importance. We are all pursuing the same goal. The results always have to do with the decisions of the President and the executive body who select the staff, who then fulfill their respective duties. We have excellent relations with the executive body, have set the same goals and are thinking alike. Thanks to all of this we can be optimistic about the future development of the Armenian football.
-Is the language barrier, the fact that you do not speak Armenian and the players do not speak Spanish, an obstacle for you? What words have you learned in Armenian so far?
-Armenian words (laughing)? “Hangist” (easy), “lava” (good), “arag” (quick) and a few others. I have to honestly confess, at the beginning, I thought the language barrier would be an issue, but I turned out wrong. There is quite a deal of non-verbal communication here; people simply look into each others’ eyes and embrace each other. Often, this is more powerful, more honest and frank than words addressed to a collective.
-Many coaches have certain schemes into which they fit the players. What is your approach? Do you place the players into your preferred scheme or is it the opposite, you choose the scheme depending on the capacities of your players?
-There are two different things here. First, you come and receive an existing team, for example, the national team, and you have to adapt to it. Being locked down due to the pandemic, we, the coaching team of Roman Berezovsky, Suren Chakhalyan, Luciano Martin and Ara Aroyan, were examining many games played by the national team. We were working almost 24/7 watching the team’s previous games. We were analyzing each player individually and gradually developing an understanding of his profile, then setting our own requirements of him. Besides, with the help of a mentality of a team and players’ confidence towards our work, we have to become a team exhibiting an intensive and aggressive pressing during the match. Also, we have to display high velocity, use the free spaces and believe in vertical football. This is what we are pursuing on the national team.
-In that case, what is the reason behind transitioning from the deeply rooted 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2? Was it because of the absence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Arshak Koryan or any other play-maker, or is this the best tactical scheme given current selection of players?
-A national team cannot depend on one or two players and there is no need to adapt to them. The principle applied here is what we had discussed with the team at the very beginning - to be like a real football team and make the best use of each player. We cannot always have possession on the field as we do not have respective players. However, we can play vertical and pressing football. Our style of play cannot depend on certain players. We need a truly team-based spirit and behavior on the field. The game lasts only 90 minutes, during this time one can shift strategies. We need to know our own strategy and approaches, and people will recognize us by the identity we form.
-In June, the national team will play two friendlies, the first match is against World Cup runner up Croatia, the second match is against Sweden, one of the strongest teams in Europe. What is the significance of playing against the strongest teams in friendly games? Was this your request? What are you going to test during these matches?
-First, there are no friendlies for national teams. We have to acknowledge this. When you wear the national team jersey, you no longer are in a friendly game, your whole country is behind your back and you need to win the trust of your fans. In this regard, we need to change our philosophy towards friendlies and we are going to start to do this in our games against the teams of Croatia and Sweden. It is possible, a new player joins our team, but I reinstate that we need to strengthen and improve our strategy. This is the reason why we do not view the matches as friendlies, this is the mentality we put behind preparations for these matches.
-You are known as a coach discovering young talents. Are you going to continue to engage young players in the upcoming matches and can you name a few at the moment?
-I am not going to name anyone now. We will give a chance to one or another player according to our philosophy and expediency. The age of the player does not guarantee his right to be in the national team. Only being in a good shape matters. If we see that a player is talented and can be an asset to the team, we will decide accordingly. For the upcoming matches, we will most likely call up players that have already been playing in the recent games.
-Vahan Bichakhchyan played in 5 out of the 6 matches of the Nations’ League. In the last three games, he spent only 1 minute on the field. What was the reason?
-We had other players on the field this time, for example, Zhirayr Shaghoyan and Eduard Spertsyan. It is a good and important thing to have competition within your own squad; this enhances the capacity of the team. We are very happy with Vahan. He needs to understand that it is necessary to work hard. Vahan is one of the players that will get his chances, however, I have to repeat that we also have other players. As the ultimate person in charge, I found it expedient to bring younger players to the field in these matches.
-Formation of the Army team (CSKA) is one of the key accomplishments of the Football Federation of Armenia. What can you say about this project? Do you believe that Zhirayr Shaghoyan’s call-up in the national team is a testimony that CSKA is showing signs of success?
-Of course. The players of this team were selected from the clubs and the Football Federation of Armenia has been providing everything they need - Football Academy facilities, training grounds, coaches. These youngsters need to show a growth in the short or mid-term. But this will only happen if they play in a top flight of Armenian club football. We cannot permit these young men to come back to their clubs after military service without a playing experience. I keep on saying, it will not only be an educational failure, but also a sporting failure if they do not play in the Premier League. So, they need to be engaged in the strongest tournament of the country, where they will have to also meet a high bar. This will boost their growth.
-You always follow Armenian Premier League games and are one of the coaches that does not hesitate to invite players from the domestic tournament. What do you think of the Armenian Premier League in general and what can boost it?
-I need to make a point here. When I had just arrived in Armenia, we started watching the national tournaments. It turned out that there are teams with no Armenian players, not a single one. I was asking myself: how can I select players from these teams? The situation changed after the FFA President initiated the requirement mandating the presence of at least two Armenian players in the starting line-up of each team. Now, we have a different picture: when we watch the national matches, we see minimum four Armenian players on the field. This is an important move forward. Of course, I would have preferred the requirement to engage at least 3 Armenian players in each team (editor’s note: on April 23 2021, FFA Ex-Co made a decision to fill at least 3 Armenian players in the line-up of Premier League clubs). I would love to see many more Armenian players in the matches of Armenia’s Cup, not to speak about 100 percent Armenian composition of teams, but the minimum should be four-five. Naturally, I have my own interests here, as coach of the national team.
-Do you have in your perspective young center-backs playing in the VBET Premier League of Armenia given that Varazdat Haroyan is not going to play in the match against North Macedonia?
-Of course, we are following the performance of the young center-backs. It is quite possible that we will invite one of them to the upcoming friendlies.
-How are you going to resolve the issue of the absence of three leaders in the match against Northern Macedonia?
-We can’t even be speaking of this situation. We need to trust our capacity, take the challenge and I am confident, the players that will be on the field will be 100 percent dedicated to the battle. After this match, we will think about the next one. It makes no sense to discuss this now. As I have already mentioned, the team cannot be held dependent upon individual players.
-Most likely, Gevorg Ghazaryan will return to the squad in the upcoming qualifier. He did not play in the past 3 games due to his injuries, but his presence was important morally. What is your assessment of his role in the team?
-We still need to see if Gevorg will be in good shape. He needs to have experience of having played in his club. The significance of his presence in the team is a different matter. Gevorg exhibits qualities of a leader, he is completely integrated in the team. We have very good interaction with each other. His enrolment will depend on his shape at that moment. Gevorg, indeed, has an important role in the team.
-The leaders on the field are quite obvious, but who inspires the team and keeps a high morale?
-Leadership is manifested in many ways; some are more silent and introverted individuals, but enjoy trust among the team members and the coaching staff for their capacities, talent and behavior on the field. There are such, who are more open, extroverted and cheerful. Any team needs to have all types of people. I can confidently state that we have a good collective - the players, the coaching staff, the employees of the Academy and the Football Federation of Armenia. We are like a family and it gives us all joy. We need to maintain this. The players that will not adapt to all of this, cannot be invited to the national team. The opposite would mean to run contrary to our own ideals. The mentality you have off-field is definitely reflected on-field.
-Football players are normally superstitious, do you have any football superstition?
-Of course, I do. I have a couple, but will not disclose them, because they lose the spell after being revealed (laughing).
-After the recent victories you’ve become a hero in Armenia, there are huge expectations of you. A video has gone viral where you are being praised in one of Yerevan restaurants. What is your attitude to things like that, do you like it, did you get used to life in Yerevan?
-I feel great in Yerevan, I feel at home here. The same is true about my family members. For this, I am thankful to Armenia, as well as the FFA President, who had a belief in us. During the very first meeting, we had a good feeling about each other. Nonetheless, I don’t like the word “hero” at all. We have all accomplished what we have accomplished. The heroes are the players, the entire coaching staff, all our fans. I always say that the goal is scored not by the player who makes a final shot. Scoring a goal is a product of a huge effort. A goal is scored thanks to the work done by the staff organizing the departure and transportation of the team, by the physiotherapists, the catering staff etc. This is where the goal starts to take shape. Unfortunately, I cannot thank them all individually, but I want to take the chance to give these people my courtesy. I feel I am an Armenian too and I think like an Armenian. These are profoundly frank words.
-You have trained teams in Spain that have crazy fans. What do you think of fans in Armenia after the last couple of games?
-Fans have a great emotional significance. They were a huge inspiration to our boys. The national team held three matches in a short period of time and it was the fans that were supplying oxygen and breath to the players when it was tough. Unfortunately, their number was limited, but I am confident that the boys were cheered and inspired outside the stadiums as well. We need our fans, they really help us. And this enhances our sense of responsibility too.
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